Gaming

Revisiting: ‘Valiant Hearts: The Great War’ (2014)

Join ScreenCritics Groot as he takes a step back in into 2014 – looking at one of Ubisoft’s more touching video games ‘Valiant Hearts’.

When it comes to video games few were able to make me into a small pile of mush in just second and I’m not considered a very emotional type of person. Yet one game managed to achieve this. I took this game seriously because of its World War One topic and even got myself immersed at the moment of writing this article in order for me to truly express what I fell for this game, because we all already know war never changes. Ladies and gentleman, today we will look at Valiant Hearts: The Great War.

Valiant Hearts was a new IP created by Ubisoft Montreal – a refreshing change of pace from the endless cycle of annual releases pushed out by Ubisot. VH is a small puzzle-adventure game with lots of emotional depth to it.

The big take away in Valiant Hearts is the characters, since the story is about certain individuals throughout histories bloodiest conflict. The gaame isn’t afraid of depicting war as a monster, not with fangs and claws, but as a silent antagonist ready to stab even the kindest of souls in any given moment. It’s a brutally emotional game that demands investment in its characters, even if the fate of said characters is one of darkness.

The story largely follows the biggest bullet points from World War 1. The archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, the world alliances form and soon each side declares war on the opposing force. Soon after the war broke out, Karl a German living in France is ordered to leave the country, and leaves his wife, Marie, and his son. However war was hungry for more, and Marie’s father, Emile, and our main protagonist is mobilised and sent to fight for the 150th French division. Even though we rooted for the protagonist, war was not kind to him and soon Emile would clash with Karl’s division, getting him imprisoned in a German camp.

Other characters are introduced to the player such as Freddie. He’s an American soldier fighting for revenge. There’s Anna, a Belgium student working as a medic, and Walt a loyal army dog who befriends our protagonists, yet the game focuses on Emile and his son-in-law Karl, and their struggle to overcome the harsh war. This kind of story telling is what drives the games narrative on-words, it being set in a real historical event and yet focusing the story on small individuals that defined that event and written it down for future generations. Our characters face real life threats, from imprisonment to the horror that is the Great War – and yet they fight on overcoming obstacles and hoping that the bloodshed will stop. In a time where world conflicts are shown through a generic fps shooter, it’s nice to see something original that breathes fresh air and unlike those shooters in which the main character is a super soldier, in this war not everybody emerges as a hero.

Throughout your adventure you will see these characters meet at certain plot points and will see how their fates are intertwined. On top of all of that you will solve some light puzzles and visit some of the most historical event’s and be a part of it. What’s interesting is that each scene has a precise explanation in the games diary system, for all of those who wish to know more about the conflict. As for the journeys conclusion, it isn’t a happy one. One of the most gruesome battles of the first world war, the Nivelle Offensive made a perfect scene for a climactic epilogue. An event that saw mutinies and military justice, one of the main protagonists got entangled in this web and in the end provided a sad scene that will haunt me forever. I won’t spoil anything to much, but as we said not everybody emerges as the hero, and in the games ending you will have to say goodbye to one of the characters of the game, which will leave you devastated and hungry for a pack of tissues.

The entire game is played out in a 2D style with cartoon graphics, similar to that of Rayman Origins, and yet it is composed of amazing visuals. However don’t let the cartoony style fool you into thinking that this is a lighthearted game, for behind this childish smile hides a tragic story just waiting to pop out.As for the rest of the game it is mostly consisted of a few driving sections and light, yet the main premise is made out of small puzzles that tell an amazing story. There are also tons of collectables for all of the achievement completionist, and while I seem to praise the game so much, it, like many other has its flaws.

It must be said though, the biggest flaw in Valiant Hearts is that it’s missing something, since the game ends in the year 1917 there is still a whole year to the end of the First World War and though one character died others moved on, continuing the fight to end the war. However this last chapter didn’t make it to the final cut, as well as the fifth character, George, who was mostly cut from the game, even though he was planed to have a major role. This is probably the only flaw, but then again war doesn’t have a happy ending and this is what the game was aiming at, finishing the fight with the last year might kill that emotional depth.

On top of the emotional scale is the soundtrack which only enhances the sad factor. Brought to us by Ian Livingstone, the soundtrack is an homage to some classics such as Hungarian Dance No. 5 by Brahms, Offenbach’s Can Can and Flight of the Bumblebee by Rimsky-Korsakov, while other original songs such as Scenes in Sepia are absolutely amazing. In the end I urge you to give this game a chance and to take it seriously, this was for me an amazing experience, and a really emotional one, and when a game makes me cry like a little bitch you know its good. As Emile said in the game :”War makes men mad” and he spoke it wise, never has a conflict shook the world and divided people as the Great War. The story of those who have fallen will live on, as will their valiant heart’s, so please tell us what was your experience at the end of this game and did you shed a tear?

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